Is God gender-fluid?
I spent one of my April days speaking with a former prostitute. “Angel” was soft-spoken and friendly, and had a wonderful turn of phrase. We chatted about her life; about what led her to live the life she did and what helped her eventually crawl out of the muck.
I listened to the horrors she had experienced at the hands of men; many different men, from an age when girls shouldn’t be concerned about such things. Father, boyfriends, pimps, police. A never-ending stream of exploitation and dehumanization.
In the midst of the pain, the loneliness, the wandering, the hopelessness, this young woman’s mother stood by her. Her door remained open when she was able to return home; her voice on the phone a welcome escape.
“My mom and I are extremely close, so she knows almost everything except for the disturbing details,” Angel told me. “Having her and the consistency and support and unconditional love from my mom despite what I’ve done or what happened. She’s the light in the darkness. I could always find that light and go back to that. I could rejuvenate my soul. She’s a huge blessing and I’m so lucky to have her.”
I was speaking with this woman as part of some interviews I’m doing for a story for the Presbyterian Record. It will focus on an amazing ministry supported by the Presbytery of East Toronto and Canadian Ministries called Arise. Arise, through its passionate yet unassuming leader, the Rev. Deb Rapport, reaches out to sex workers through middle-of-the-night street walkabouts and personal counseling.
But back to mothers.
I know there are some who find it troubling to think about God as Mother, about referring to God as a womanly, feminine being. She instead of (or should I say, along with) He. Not only Father but Mother, as well. And that by thinking of God in female terms, we are somehow defiling God’s image.
This is not a new argument, of course. And if you disagree with me, you’re in good company. C.S. Lewis thought women had no place as priests; that a woman had no business representing God to His people.
In his essay, Priestesses in the Church?, Lewis asserts that “equal” for women in the church does not mean “interchangeable;” that by saying women can be priestesses just as men can be priests, is to negate the very thing that makes them men and women, and that in so doing, you are neutering both. And, he adds, the very argument “is against Christianity” itself.
He notes: “It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity lays upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are … to fill the place prepared for us. But … Only one wearing the masculine uniform can represent the Lord to the Church…”. To do otherwise, he argues, would mean that the Church would become something else entirely.
What I think Lewis misses though is that by attributing female characteristics to God, we are not replacing a man with a woman. We are not taking away God’s male descriptors; rather, we are adding female ones. I don’t think it’s a matter of either/or, but both/and. Including both at the table, and recognizing the worth in each.
For me, the very idea of God as Creator—the maker and giver of life—immediately calls feminine imagery to mind. My youngest daughter seems to instinctively agree. Last week in the grocery store, while I compared dill pickle prices and she sat in the cart with her imaginary grocery list, she asked me a question.
“Mommy, how did God make us?”
“Hmmm … good question. Well, God is really awesome and He can do awesome things and…”
“She! You said, ‘he.’”
“Oh, yes, She. She can do awesome things.”
[Note: I did not prompt this opinion!]
Remember what our friend said at the top of the story? That her mother was “a light in the darkness,” offered “unconditional love,” and was someone who had the ability to “rejuvenate her soul”?
Are these not characteristics we also attribute to God?
Jeremiah 31:3 says, “The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (NRSV)
And I love this one from Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
During this month of Mother’s Day, thanking and recognizing moms for their unconditional and sacrificial love is a familiar refrain, and many of us recall the comfort sought and found from Mom during times of distress throughout our lives.
Is it such a leap then to think of God in female terms as well? Not as a physical being, but as a holy being who loves and creates and comforts in a way that only a mother can, while, at the same time, offers the protection, strength and provision of a father.
Jesus was a man, yes. A physical, walking around, breath-blown-into-mud man. But God? A divine, perfect, omnipotent being is also male? Is such an awesome creature gender-static? Or is God bigger than that? Is God perhaps gender-fluid?
When I told my husband the story of our daughter in the grocery store, he replied, “I love the idea of her growing up with a female image of God in her head.”
He said such a thing would never have occurred to him when he was our daughter’s age. He was never given the opportunity.
“…[W]hat can it matter whether we say, He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?” asks Lewis.
When I spoke with Angel, she told me about the long (and ongoing) journey of reclaiming her worth. She had been a victim for so long; so vulnerable, so exploited, so dehumanized, that it was difficult to see beyond it. And yet, reclaiming who she is and embracing the idea of being a strong and wise woman has been the key to moving on.
I wonder if embracing the idea of a feminine God could aid such healing? That someone who has been hurt by men again and again could find comfort in a Mother God.
“My mom is a Christian and believes in God,” said Angel. “She taught me, but it was kind of hard to believe sometimes. I was so angry. But at this point in my life, I can’t deny that there’s a higher power that’s been watching over me. That I’ve made it through and been okay as I am and that I still have a chance … there’s definitely somebody looking out for me.
“Who needs to seek big, powerful men, when you have guardian angels like mine? They’re serious. They’ve got my back.”
What does it matter, indeed.
Amy MacLachlan is the managing editor of the Presbyterian Record. She is currently on sabbatical.